Central London is one of the most innovative and diverse retail environments in the UK, but for too long a predominantly A1-only approach to development control has failed to take full account of what customers need.
Following the recent judicial review decision on the Use Class Order changes, the way is clear for the new regime that came in on 1 September. It should be a game-changer for towns and cities across the country – most of all central London.
Now, landlords have more flexibility than ever and can look further and wider for new uses that respond to ever-changing consumer demand and the market’s restructuring. The requirement for planning applications to seek dual uses (Use 1 or Use 2 for up to 10 years), or submit reams of marketing information demonstrating attempts to let space, falls away and new opportunities can be exploited.
Experiential offers are, of course, one driver; complementary uses from restaurants to gyms are vital for increasing dwell time and spend.
There is scope for more as well. Healthcare has a clear place in urban centres. So, too, do crèches and other uses that perform an important social purpose and do not need ground-level frontages or large shop windows.
Office landlords should consider converting underused parts of their buildings to retail, gyms or other leisure. Such flexibility maximises the chances of all floorspace being let and re-let, minimising voids without compromising the main function of a building.
Owners of larger assets, too, should embrace this flexibility. We are unlikely to see new large department stores in the future and it is vital that we find new and inventive uses for some of the upper floors of these buildings so they continue to contribute to the capital’s heritage and tourism appeal as well as its economy.
The next challenge, of course, is matching licensing, so that restaurants can operate more freely, the city’s night-time economy can also realise the benefits of this new-found planning flexibility and this exceptional part of London can more fully exploit this potential.
Peter Bovill is partner at Montagu Evans